Wednesday, March 06, 2013

On Castel Stroll, Paparazzi Snap Papa Ratzi

Lest anyone thought being Pope made for the world's most mysterious – and therefore attention-grabbing – public role, there's apparently something that commands even more fascination: the first post-papacy in 700 years.

Six days since leaving Peter's chair to attain his long-sought "release," as never once happened during his seven years as Pope, Italian paparazzi images published today captured a bundled-up B16 walking in the gardens at Castel Gandolfo with his secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, who'll soon have to return to Rome to fulfill his "day job" as prefect of the Papal Household.

Two photos of the now Pope-emeritus were run in the Italian celebrity magazine Chi.

The morning after the resignation, the Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi related that Papa Ratzinger was moved and appreciative on seeing the Italian TV reports about his departure in the hours after the sede vacante took effect. The Jesuit portavoce added that Benedict slept well, had breakfast and was looking forward to resuming his longtime practice of playing the piano in the evenings.

No further update from the Holy See has since emerged. Still, much as it wouldn't be any surprise if the Vatican sought to protest the invasion of the retired pontiff's space, the Pope's line at his closing audience a week ago just echoes back again...
"Always, he who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and totally to everyone, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, totally deprived of the private sphere.... The 'always' is also a 'forever' – there is no returning to private life. My decision to forgo the exercise of active ministry does not revoke this. I do not return to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences and so on. I do not abandon the cross, but remain in a new way near to the Crucified Lord."
On a side-note, it's sweet to see that the quilted mountain-jacket and ballcap – first used by Benedict on the first summer break after his 2005 election (left, amid the Alps) – have been kept around and returned to use.

Elsewhere, though, much as howls have come from some segments of the Establishment over both the ex-Pope's future living arrangements behind the city-state's walls amid claims of an "undue influence" the situation could have on his successor, and especially Gänswein's impending dual role as B16's lead minder while holding the post that will organize the next Pope's daily agenda, it bears reminding that the last Pope has followed tradition in leaving his successor several openings to give the secretary a golden "out." 

As things stand, two key posts in German Catholicism – the influential bishopric of Mainz and the metropolitan seat at Cologne, thought to be the richest diocese in the world – both have cardinal-heads who remain in office well past the retirement age of 75; in the latter case, Benedict's closest ally at home, the conservative Cardinal Joachim Meisner, turns 80 on Christmas. Come August, meanwhile, Gänswein's native archdiocese of Freiburg opens up as Archbishop Robert Zollitsch – the president of the German bench – will be required to submit his own "walking papers."

Of course, the scenario clearly echoes that of early 2005, when John Paul II could've filled the archbishopric of Krakow – Poland's second see, and the one he held until becoming Pope – but left the replacement of his own successor, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, then nearly 78, to the next pontiff. 

For what it's worth, it didn't take being in Rome to figure out – even before John Paul died – that Stanislaw Dziwisz, Karol Wojtyla's omnipresent ombra of four decades, would end up in the post. 

Within six weeks of Benedict's election, it happened.

As Pope, Der Deutschpapst was keenly intent on stacking the German church's top rank with 50-something appointees, naming the sociologist-biker Reinhard Marx (above), then 52, to his former seat in Munich in 2007 and the iPhone-toting Cologne auxiliary Rainer Maria Woelki to Berlin at 54 in 2011, quickly elevating both into this Conclave's electorate.

And in the next pontificate – whoever the cardinals' choice might fall upon – don't be surprised one bit when the Vatican's "George Clooney," now 56, completes the circle.

PHOTOS: Chi(1); CatholicPressPhoto(2); AP(3)